Dangerous Grief

by Mohit Kumar

Photo by Mohit Kumar

Grief is a mixed and dangerous behavior. It is mixed because of its unpredictability. When you grieve well, you surrender to ignorance. You don’t know what you’ll do, which way you’ll turn, or how you’ll act.

There is no map for the terrain in that area. There are hints of light and markers of how others have travelled that world. But those are only markers, only signs that keep us from believing we’re alone in our peril.

It is true that grieving is isolating, but as we grieve, God keeps us looking long enough to see how many people surround us. And we adapt to our way of getting through it. We may even surprise ourselves. “I didn’t see that coming” or “I can’t believe I said that.”

Upon inspection of our selves—when we monitor our souls—we see our behavior in that moment as an instance of grief, a mixed-up flash of pain on display. Grief is mixed.

And it is dangerous. Grief changes you. To put it better, loss changes you. When you lose, you grieve, and it is the tearing that turns you into someone else.

I think I’m starting to wonder about how people have lost in life before I wonder whether I can trust them. I’m generally a cool individual. I don’t let people get rises out of me. I function mostly by keeping my energy on reserve. But I open to people who lose. I am primed toward people who express that loss.

Not in every case, but it’s incredibly helpful when I meet a person who is in touch with her losses, acquainted with his grief. Because that contact keeps a person honest. Being close to anguish keeps you humble.

 It helps you maintain your proximity toward the ground. You stay at the ground of your being and you stay near the earth because, plainly, you’ve put someone or something you loved in that earth. And when you’ve placed a significant other in the ground, you look at that ground with new wonder.

That is change. You look at the world differently. You see something that wasn’t there (for you) before. And that’s dangerous. Being changed and being able to change is miraculously dangerous.

Healing & Trust

Photo Thanks to Jenelle Ball

Photo Thanks to Jenelle Ball

When a person has been injured or hurt or wounded, there are usually direct ways to heal. At times, that injured person knows the way forward. Something inside tells us that we should do this, refrain from that, be gentle here, be firm there. Our healing comes from an interiority which is directive and caring and insightful.

And then, sometimes the experts know that we should do specific things to recover. The experts are those voices which are outside ourselves. They may be soul doctors or medical doctors. The experts may be spiritual directors or therapists or significant others. They are usually, in one form or another, friends.

The experts are needed people who stand outside our experience and bring to us gifts from their knowledge and experience. Their wisdom is beneficial. But sometimes what they know contradicts what we know. They suggest a plan of care that is disagreeable to us.

The discernment is in doing what the caring others say even in the face of our internal conflict. “I believe that the plan should be this but I’ll submit.” Trust inevitably leads to submission, surrender.

It takes incredible trust to heal. Trust in oneself. Trust in one’s spirit or body. Trust in time. Trust that God and God’s creation is bending toward restoration where we are concerned.

But the other incredible trust is exhibited in others. Trust to believe that someone else is wiser or more informed about your healing even if they aren’t the right-now recipient of your particular pain.

A Prayer From The Chapel

This prayer was adapted from Nouwen’s Open Hands and was in the chapel a few weeks ago:

Dear God:

Speak gently in our silence.

When the loud noises of the outside world,

And the loud inner noises of our fears

Make You seem so far away;

Help us to know that You are still there–

Even when we can barely hear you.

Help us cling to that still, small voice

That says, “Come to me, all you who are

Weak and overburdened,

And I will give you rest–

For I am gentle and humble of heart.”

God, let that loving voice be our guide this day.

May we find rest in Your love,

And bring that love to others.

We ask now for healing

Of body, mind, and spirit,

In Your holy name.

Amen.

Advent Post #20

“…for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:49)

I stood and listened to a patient who told me how remarkable God had been in his healing process. And like other times, I received a gift in that man’s retelling. He spoke to me about how from start-to-finish God had been present.

That doesn’t happen every day in the hospital. There are people who struggle to locate the Presence as they fight disease. There are relatives who want nothing to do with a chaplain or the God she or he may bring. God and God’s things are toxic to some when their bodies are sick. God and God’s things do not bring healing to them. Of course, as a pastor and chaplain I find those to be reasons to keep praying, even if quietly for my patients and their families.

On occasion, though, and the occasion is often I’m happy to say, a patient will be quite clear that “God has done this.” One man told me for 30 minutes the story of God’s company in his healing. Since my units at Northwestern Memorial are the general surgery and medical intensive care units, I tend to see some of our hospital’s sickest patients. I tend to see people just before or just after a surgery. I see people when they feel very close or very distant from God.

This gentleman, a man afraid of needles and things, talked to me about how God had changed him. God turned him toward healing by doing the plain, almost unremarkable act of having him go to the doctor, obey the doctor, and keep obeying the doctor. He followed his wife’s instruction and kept following it. And God kept working through each act of surrender. Eventually–and I am using Mary’s song to summarize my patient’s experience–the Mighty One did something great.

I don’t know that I’ve always seen God’s acts in unremarkable acts. I’ve certainly developed that appreciation to spot God in the ordinary. I want to raise that as an ideal. Looking for God in the mundane expands our potential for finding God. If we seek, whether at this liturgical moment or another, to find God in the spectacular, we’ll usually be let down.

“God will heal me from this despite the doctor’s report,” just may be one such moment. It’s a spectacular prayer and hope, and I find myself supporting many who say and hold such statements in their hearts. But it takes as much (perhaps it takes more or frankly less) faith to state that God will be with me through the long course of some thing, that God will walk with me through a pregnancy (like Mary) or a cancer treatment (like a friend, Grace) or a job search or a move to a new city. God who does things in spectacular ways also does things in ways we hardly notice.

Of course, any time God does something, anything, it’s worth our calling it “great.” Does it have to be a mountain that is moved for us to call it amazing? Or does it only have to be something an amazing One did?

A Prayer About Cancer For Three People Particularly

You know that we care for our mothers, whatever their ages, and I bring these three mothers to you in prayer.  You know their diagnoses, the particulars of their medical histories, their prognoses, and their feelings about it all.

Give them your closest ear as they whisper their questions, their prayers, their dreams, and their pains through the courses before them.  May you collect their every word, gesture, and ache, translate them into beautiful, powerful speech, and may you be moved by them to act gloriously.

Grant them your company through what may feel like both a crowded and lonely time.  May they sense you in glances, in whispers, in surprises, in meals, in quiet.

Heal their bodies through any means necessary, using doctors with their medicines, nurses with their many touches, technicians and their tests, and friends and family and children and strangers, making every single interaction a strong movement of divine healing.

Rebuke death all the way through, like you did in Jesus and reset their bodies to be increasingly vessels of health and glory.  Fill them with reminders that you have conquered death and all its effects, and keep them in that peace when all seems opposite.

Endure with them the broadness of unanswered questions, occasional doubts, hard-uttered gratitude, resentment, wondering, knowing and not knowing, and waiting.  Bless their efforts and their attempts to restore themselves while giving love to others.

Make them laugh.  Make them sit and stir and run in joy.  Make their evenings filled with splendid memories and their days cracked with blessing upon blessing.

Open before them and us your future, and make us to find our destinies in you.  Our collective future is in and with and for you, and may you grant us daily a proximity to that tomorrow.

Give them and us such generous spirits that we pray for the best, seek the good, and persist in the suffering along this way.

Empower every person in their path to be loving, gracious, good, faithful, and persistent even when we don’t know how such things come through us.

Grant us silence when words falter.  Grant us strength to submit to a redeemed life that ends and doesn’t end in you.  Equip us to be a supportive, fiercely loving, vulnerable and weak and bold and steady community of witnesses to what you’re doing.

In every way, remember Grace, Rob’s mother, and my mother.

In the name of the One who Heals all our diseases.

Amen.